Understanding Bronchitis and Its Treatments
Even before the novel coronavirus introduced us to COVID-19, bronchitis was a common medical condition. It affected over three million Americans every year. The disease can range from mild to severe to life-threatening and is often tied to a viral respiratory infection, such as COVID-19.
What Is Bronchitis?
The Mayo Clinic defines bronchitis as
“an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. People who have bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic.”
Bronchitis is generally a secondary condition that develops from a primary cause, such as a cold or the flu. In the case of the novel coronavirus, it develops from the respiratory distress that the virus causes.
What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?
Bronchitis can present with a wide range of symptoms depending on the severity of the condition, the type of bronchitis in question, and the patient’s health and medical factors. For instance, an elderly individual with COPD would present with very different symptoms than a 19-year-old with no health problems at all.
However, there are some symptoms that are common to most situations, including the following:
- Dry cough
- Wet cough
- Mild body ache
- Soreness or tightness in the chest
- Sore throat
- Muscle weakness (severe cases)
- Shortness of breath
Who Is Most Susceptible?
Many factors may make someone more susceptible to bronchitis. These include the following:
- Smokers and those around cigarette smoke
- Those with asthma and/or allergies
- Low resistance due to another illness
- Those with reduced immune systems
- Exposure to irritants, often on the job
- Sufferers of gastric reflex
What Are the Common Treatments for Bronchitis?
In many cases, bronchitis will resolve itself given time and if you are able to get enough rest. However, those at significant risk, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, as well as children, may require medical care. Depending on the type of bronchitis in question, antibiotics may be required, although these are not useful in treating viral infections.
In severe situations, patients may also require the following types of care. Note that these are more common with severe bronchitis brought on by the novel coronavirus:
- Oxygen Therapy - Severe cases of bronchitis can make it difficult or impossible to take in enough oxygen. Nasal tubes, a face mask, or a ventilator tube may be necessary.
- Mucus - In serious situations where large quantities of mucus are produced, it may be necessary to use a mucus-clearing device.
- Other Medications - In some cases, anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators may be needed to help improve your ability to breathe.
How Does COVID-19-Related Bronchitis Differ?
COVID-19 can create complications for patients who already have bronchitis, but it can also lead to bronchitis in some cases. The symptoms caused by COVID-19 vary greatly from person to person, and while some patients have a fever, dry cough, and fatigue, many also report coughing up mucus, a sore throat, fever, and other symptoms similar to bronchitis.
What Role Might Stem Cells Play in Treating Bronchitis?
Stem cells, the building blocks of every type of tissue in the body, are being studied for their ability to treat everything from cancer to diabetes. This includes bronchitis, COPD, and other lung disorders. Numerous studies have been conducted in this area, and even more are ongoing.
One study conducted by the European Respiratory Society found that
“stem cell therapy can reduce lung inflammation in an animal model of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis”.
Stem cells provide multiple benefits for patients struggling with lung diseases, including bronchitis. These include:
- Anti-Inflammation – Stem cells are well known for their ability to combat inflammation, which is one reason they are being investigated for use in treating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. In bronchitis, inflammation of the airways leads to difficulty breathing, pain, and other symptoms.
- Repair and Regeneration – Stem cells are the building blocks of the body and can transform into any type of cell needed to regenerate or rebuild the body. In bronchitis, stem cells can heal or replace cells damaged by the viruses or by bacteria.
Stem cell therapy may prove to be especially well-suited for treating patients with lung disorders. When infused into the body, stem cells migrate directly to the lungs, where they multiply and mature. During this process, they may also heal and regenerate damaged tissue, reduce inflammation, and speed recovery.
The Difference in Stem Cells
While stem cell research is widespread, studies use different types of stem cells, as do experimental stem cell therapies. Autologous stem cells are often used in clinical research and are harvested from the patient’s own body. Often, fat tissue (adipose tissue) or bone marrow are used as they can be a source of stem cells. However, autologous stem cells often have high levels of damage and mutation and are often low energy. This means that they may not deliver the level of regeneration necessary, and the mutations/damage may cause an adverse immune system reaction.
Allogeneic stem cells are seeing increased use in clinical trials and experimental treatments. These are sourced not from the patient, but from umbilical cord blood and tissue. This means that these cells are young and energetic, but they are also almost invisible to the immune system, meaning there is less chance of a reaction.
Stem cell therapy may provide patients suffering from bronchitis with vital help and healing. However, it is important that patients understand there is currently no FDA-approved stem cell treatment, so all such therapies should be considered experimental. Also, they should not replace traditional established treatments. It is also important to choose a physician experienced in treating patients using allogeneic stem cells, rather than autologous stem cells.